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Eating for luck

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New Year's food

Eating a meal of black-eyed peas, greens and ham on Jan. 1 is said to bring good luck throughout the new year.

Goodbye, 2020. Hello, 2021.

With Jan. 1 right around the corner, there’s no better way to bring in 2021 than with a traditional Southern meal that’s been said to add some luck in the upcoming year.

The main components of the New Year’s Day feast include the symbolic foods of black-eyed peas, pork, greens and cornbread. Each of the foods represents either wealth, luck or prosperity.

Linda Dean, longtime cook at Steven’s Barbecue, said she prepares the traditional meal for her family to celebrate — and to bring a little luck into the new year.

To her, the tradition represents “New year, new blessings,” she said.

The Itta Bena resident said that’s the way she’s celebrated New Year’s Day “since I was a little girl.” She has been cooking the meal for about 25 or 30 years now.

Her New Year’s spread usually includes foods such as black-eyed peas, cabbage greens, macaroni and cheese, turnip greens, neck bones and cornbread.

For her black-eyed peas, she uses an old recipe passed down to her from her grandmother.

While cornstarch and flour are commonly used to thicken dishes, Dean has a tasty tip for those who prefer the consistency of their peas to be thick rather than soupy.

When making both cornbread and black-eyed peas, “whatever is left in my pan, I like to use that batter, just a little bit, in my peas. ... It’s something different my grandmother taught me.”

She said to take just a small portion of the leftover cornbread in a spoon and stir the peas while they are cooking.

“It’s an old recipe,” she said.

There are several theories as to why Southerners eat peas and greens for luck on Jan. 1.

An article in Southern Living reported that there’s evidence that people ate black-eyed peas for luck as early as 500 A.D. as a part of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Cornbread

According to popular New Year’s folklore, cornbread represents gold, and eating it brings the hope of extra spending money in the new year.

Others, however, say the Southern tradition dates back to the Civil War when black-eyed peas or purple-hull peas were considered not good enough to feed the Union troops. So when they raided the Confederates, the only things they left behind were peas and pork. The Confederates felt lucky to be left with these supplies, which allowed them to survive the cold winter. From then on, peas and pork have been symbolic of luck.

Another theory is that black-eyed peas were all Southern slaves had on the first day of January 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. After that, peas were eaten on the first day of January every year in celebration.

Others, however, believe eating peas in the South for luck has more to do with the region being known as a place for farming, and peas are a crop that holds up well in the winter.

According to Southern Living, the popular Southern New Year’s dish Hoppin’ John comes from the tradition of eating black-eyed peas with rice that originated in Africa and spread throughout the South, especially in the Carolinas.

Southern food researcher John Egerton’s book “Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, In History” says that black-eyed peas are associated with a “mystical and mythical power to bring good luck.” Collard greens, he said, are green like money and will ensure you a financially prosperous new year.

Here’s more of the popular folklore on lucky New Year’s foods:

• Greens: Any variety is acceptable, but most common are collard, turnip or mustard greens. The greens — green for money — symbolize wealth.

• Peas: Typically, black-eyed peas or purple-hull peas are used. They symbolize coins, representing wealth. Because peas swell when they are cooked, they also symbolize luck and prosperity.

• Cornbread: Cornbread can be prepared multiple ways, but plain traditional Southern cornbread is the most popular because it pairs well with black-eyed peas and greens. Cornbread represents gold, and eating it brings the hope of extra spending money in the new year.

• Pork: Many of the recipes for New Year’s dishes of greens and peas contain pork. But pork roast, tenderloin or ham can also be served. Pork is another symbol of prosperity because pigs root forward when foraging, which represents positive motion.

Here are some New Year’s Day recipes that are sure to bring luck and prosperity in 2021:

COLLARD GREENS WITH HAM HOCKS 

1 pound fresh collard greens

4 smoked ham hocks

Crushed red pepper

Hot sauce

Salt and pepper

Cut and wash collard greens. Place in large pot with ham hocks and crushed red pepper. Add enough water to cover. Simmer over medium heat approximately two hours until greens are tender. Remove from heat and add salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste.

CORNBREAD

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cornmeal

2 to 4 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup milk

¼ cup cooking oil

Stir flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in bowl. In separate bowl, beat eggs, milk and oil. Add to flour mixture, and stir until smooth. (Do not overbeat.) Pour into greased 9-by-9-inch baking pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown.

HOPPIN' JOHN

1 cup dry black-eyed peas

4 thick slices bacon, cut into small pieces

1 cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped green pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

1 dash each of cayenne and black pepper

3 cups cooked rice

Wash peas, then cover with 5 cups water. Boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and soak overnight. Rinse and drain thoroughly. Cook bacon in heavy pan until browned. Add onion and green pepper. Sauté until onion is tender. Add beans, 2 cups water and seasonings. Cover and simmer 40 to 50 minutes or until peas are tender. Remove bay leaf; stir in rice. Continue simmering about 10 minutes until all liquid has been absorbed.

SOUTHERN BLACK-EYED PEAS

1 (1-pound) package black-eyed peas

2 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces ham, diced

6 thick-cut slices bacon, cut in ¼-inch strips

1 large onion, chopped (about 1½ cups)

1 red bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)

3 stalks celery, chopped (about 1 cup)

4 cloves garlic, chopped

4 cups chicken stock

2 cups water

½ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Rinse and sort black-eyed peas. Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add ham and bacon. Cook stirring occasionally until browned, about 10 minutes. Add onion, bell pepper and celery, sauté for 3 minutes, or until onions are slightly translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add black-eyed peas, stock, water, pepper and cayenne, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until peas are tender, about 75 minutes.

Contact Ruthie Robison at 581-7235 or rrobison@gwcommonwealth.com.

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